The atrocities of religious crackpots
I recently read one of the most disturbing newspaper articles I have ever seen. It reported on the burial in Nashville, Tenn. earlier this week of Cpl. David A. Bass, a 20-year old Marine killed in Iraq. The solemn ceremony was marred by the appearance of a small group of people, standing across the street from the church, "celebrating" Cpl. Bass'death.
The demonstrators were members of a tiny fundamentalist Baptist church in Topeka, Kan. They carried placards reading "Thank God for dead soldiers" and "Thank God for I.E.Ds"--the latter a reference to the roadside bombs that have killed scores of our troops in Iraq. They trashed an American flag and shouted that the soldiers killed in Iraq were "rotting in hell."
These were not anti-war protesters. They were people who considered themselves religious Christians. They were arguing that God is killing U.S. soldiers to punish America for "condoning homosexuality." The Kansas church group had previously attracted publicity by picketing the funeral of the young gay man beaten to death in Wyoming six years ago. I consider their activities to be atrocities.
More recently, they have been showing up, in groups with as many as 20 people, at other military funerals with their ugly chants, anti-gay placards and tattered American flags. According to their literal interpretation of the Bible, homosexuality is an abomination. One may share that religious belief about homosexuals, but that is a bizarre justification for their atrocious behavior at the funerals of troops killed in Iraq.
What is one to make of such people whose dreadful behavior is based on religious belief? They have crossed the line from religious piety to fanaticism, and they threaten civil society. The Bible can be interpreted in many different ways. But what these crackpots are doing is obscene.
There are other religious militants who use similarly atrocious tactics for another cause: abortion rights. These so-called "pro-lifers" are willing to kill and threaten doctors who perform abortions and to harass the unfortunate women who, for very personal, nerve-wracking reasons, want an abortion. But the protestors' alleged reverence for life seems to vanish when society is called upon to take care of unwanted babies. Again, one may truly believe that abortion is sinful. That is no excuse, however, to commit atrocities.
Religious fanaticism is not confined, of course, to Christianity. Several years ago, an ultra-Orthodox rabbi in Israel "explained" that a busload of young children were killed in an accident because their school had improperly installed a mezuzah--a traditional Jewish religious symbol--on its doorpost. And there have been eccentric ultra-Orthodox rabbis who theorized that 6 million Jews perished in the Holocaust as divine punishment against the Jewish people for drifting away from traditional religious observance. They, too, were committing atrocities.
And then, of course, there is radical Islam and the jihadis who are eager to kill "infidels" in the name of Allah. To be sure, the suicide bombers in Israel and Iraq are politically motivated. But they have combined their political causes with religious belief, and they have been taught to expect divine salvation because of their grisly acts.
I am not criticizing those religious fundamentalists who do not intrude into the lives of other people. My own grandparents, who died more than a half-century ago, could probably have been described as religious fundamentalists. They were genuinely pious Jews, however, who did not try to impose their beliefs on others. Nor did they turn to violence against those who did not share their religious values. They were saint-like people who practiced their religion in a truly spiritual manner.
I can now confess, however, that I may have had a different opinion as a child when
my devout grandmother, with whom I lived, "encouraged" me to recite my prayers when I awakened in the morning and when I went to bed at night. Although I am not now religiously observant, my grandmother's "encouragement" did me no harm.